Tue, Sep 29, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Gates warns against early troop pullout

‘STRATEGIC MISTAKE’ The US defense chief underlined the risk of setting a timeline for withdrawal, saying that it would be viewed as defeat by the Taliban and al-Qaeda

AP , WASHINGTON

US Army Private First Class Cory Terry helps Army Specialist Michael Keenan after an improvised explosive device laid by the Taliban exploded and damaged their armored vehicle along the road near the village of Eber in Logar province on Saturday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said it was a mistake to set a deadline to end US military action in Afghanistan, as some liberals had said, adding that a defeat would be disastrous for the US

In a stern warning to critics of continued troop presence in Afghanistan, Gates said the Taliban and al-Qaeda would perceive an early pullout as a victory over the US as similar to the Soviet Union’s humiliating withdrawal in 1989 after a 10-year war.

“The notion of timelines and exit strategies and so on, frankly, I think would all be a strategic mistake. The reality is, failure in Afghanistan would be a huge setback for the United States,” Gates said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.

“Taliban and al-Qaeda, as far as they’re concerned, defeated one superpower. For them to be seen to defeat a second, I think, would have catastrophic consequences in terms of energizing the extremist movement, al-Qaeda recruitment, operations, fundraising, and so on,” he said.

“I think it would be a huge setback for the United States,” he said.

Gates’ pointed remarks came as US President Barack Obama re-examines his administration’s strategy in Afghanistan and as the Pentagon sits on a request for additional troops from General Stanley McChrystal, the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

McChrystal has said a different strategy on the ground as well as more troops are needed in Afghanistan. In a 60 Minutes profile that aired on Sunday night, the commander argued for faster progress.

“We could do good things in Afghanistan for the next 100 years and fail,” he said. “Because we’re doing a lot of good things and it just doesn’t add up to success. And we’ve got to think quicker.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton suggested Obama’s decisions would come after the election in Afghanistan was sorted out.

“This is not like an election in Western Europe or the United States, to carry out an election in these circumstances was going to be difficult under any conditions. It’s not over yet,” Clinton told CBS’ Face the Nation.

“We have to wait until it is resolved, hopefully very soon. Then make a new commitment on how to meet our strategic goals. And it’s going to be up to the president to determine how best to achieve that,” she said.

Gates said that Obama had made no decision on whether to send additional troops. He said if Obama were to choose to increase combat forces, they would not be able to mobilize until January.

The prospect of sending additional soldiers has created a backlash among some Democrats in Congress and has angered anti-war activists on the left who rallied behind Obama’s presidential candidacy last year.

Senator Russ Feingold has said the administration should set a “flexible timeline” to draw down troops. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, has called for a timeline and a time limit for achieving objectives in Afghanistan.

“I do not believe the American people want to be in Afghanistan for the next 10 years, effectively nation building,” she told Fox News Sunday.

Others, such as Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, have not gone as far, but have urged Obama not to escalate the war.

Senator John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said he hoped Obama would decide to commit the necessary troops.

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